By Tyler Arnold
(The Center Square) – Virginia public schools will no longer be allowed to provide gender-affirming counseling services to students without first consulting with their parents, per new guidelines from the Virginia Department of Education.
In a shift away from the previous administration, the new guidelines state parents must be informed and given the opportunity to object before the school provides counseling services related to gender. The guidelines say schools should designate a counselor to speak with the student and parents together if requested by the parents.
The guidelines also say schools shall defer to parents regarding the use of pronouns, names and nicknames or whether the student identifies with a gender that is different from his or her biological sex. Schools shall also defer to parents on decisions about whether student receives counseling that encourages the student to identify with a gender that is different from his or her biological sex.
School boards will need to adopt policies that adhere to the following principle: “Parents have the right to make decisions with respect to their children.” The guidelines elaborate that parents have the right to nurture values and beliefs for their own children and make decisions for them that are consistent with their customs, faith and family culture.
“The Department also fully acknowledges the rights of parents to exercise their fundamental rights granted by the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to direct the care, upbringing, and education of their children,” the guidelines read. “The Code of Virginia reaffirms the rights of parents to determine how their children will be raised and educated. Empowering parents is not only a fundamental right, but it is essential to improving outcomes for all children in Virginia.”
The guidelines say parents are the child’s most important educator and that teachers, counselors and administrators should work in partnership with them. It also states that schools should respect all students and have a right to learn without unlawful discrimination or harassment.
School boards will also not be allowed to require anyone to use someone’s preferred pronouns because the First Amendment forbids government actors from forcing a person to adhere to particular ideological beliefs. According to the guidelines, the use of preferred pronouns is premised on the ideological belief gender is based on personal choice, rather than biological sex.
The guidelines also say schools should respect all students and have a right to learn without unlawful discrimination or harassment. It says schools should try to accommodate any student who sincerely believes his or her gender is different than his or her biological sex.
When Gov. Glenn Youngkin ran for office, he made parental rights in education one of his biggest campaign issues. The new guidelines under his administration differ vastly from the guidelines set under former Gov. Ralph Northam, which expressly stated that schools would not need to notify parents about gender-related counseling and that schools should direct a student to resources if parents were not affirming his or her gender identity.